Your Imposter Syndrome is Fake
Don’t let the self-help industry fool you — education beats courage
I read two sentences and cringed. Minutes before our lunch meeting, I’d discovered an awful truth: My friend was bad at writing.
His sentences were broken. His verbs were odd. The grammar was a mess. Words like “extemporary” flew into the middle of a line where they didn’t fit, which meant he had cheated with a thesaurus.
What could I say to him?
This was seven days after my first viral post, which meant I was completely full of myself. Going viral is dangerous. It makes you think you know something. I dreamed that I could turn my friend into “the next me.” What a stupid thing to think.
Worse, I assumed I could help him in less than an hour. He mentioned “imposter syndrome” the first time we spoke, but there were many issues a pep talk would never take care of.
I was still wondering when he handed sat down across from me at the park bench. After an awkward silence, he spoke.
“So, how did you overcome your fear of releasing your work online?” he said.
The answer hit me like a ton of bricks. I’d honestly never thought of it before.
“Well… um… somebody taught me how to write.”
If you’ve never learned or practiced the skill you think you should be successful at, you don’t have imposter syndrome. You have delusion.
Self-help culture is largely to blame for this confusion. It is easy and lucrative to tell a person they can do anything. It is difficult and boring to discuss how that thing is done. Most “influencers” skirt the issue.
“Only fear holds you back from wealth!” says the guru.
You are flushed with confidence and ready for riches. Then, you try to learn how investing works. You are pummeled with words you don’t know, words like “investment hedge,” “S&P”, and “asset classes” and “dollar-cost averaging.” You feel stupid.
Imagine if, instead of learning, you simply declared yourself an imposter and threw your money toward stocks at random. Dumb idea, isn’t it?
This is exactly what many of us do — try to fill a knowledge gap with courage because it is less embarrassing. We are told anything is possible so often that most of us can’t admit we don’t know how to do any of those totally possible things.
What if we treated children like the self-help bros treat literally everyone?
“You don’t need to learn to add! You only need to overcome your fear of addition!” Before too long, you’d be looking at a wildly confident — but completely stupid — young man.
Comedian Alex Edelman jokes about this absurdity. He compares himself to another famous Alex — Alex Honnold. Alex Honnold scales giant mountains with no safety nets. The comedian was jealous of Honnold… until he discovered the athlete was three years older than him.
“As if in the next three years, I’m going to ‘get my shit together’ and do the same thing.”
Fear is an easy problem to solve. That’s why it doesn’t get you very far.
Courage can’t teach you to climb a mountain. Bravery can’t help you make a four-star meal if you don’t know the difference between steaming and sautéing. Conquering your doubts is not the first step to writing a paper about the Byzantine Empire. It’s probably going to Google and typing “what the heck is the Byzantine Empire?”
Blind courage is a recipe for disaster. But add knowledge to courage and your chances for success go through the roof.
He’s hungry for new styles. He’s addicted to new writing techniques.
Tim doesn’t have to spend time “overcoming imposter syndrome” because he learns constantly.
Your imposter syndrome is fake. That should be fabulous news.
Why? Because it means you don’t lack courage. You just lack information. And luckily for you, information is everywhere.
Set aside your ego. Learn new things every day. Embrace the beautiful enlightenment of total stupidity. People teach you things if you are stupid. They do it slowly so you can keep up.
When you keep up, you can learn things. When you learn things, you get smarter. When you get smarter, you get better.
And when you get better, you get braver without even trying.